In the digital age, organizations have countless ways in which they can communicate, but email remains the most popular. Email though is used for far more than just communication. The organization, rightly or wrongly, uses it to store documents, contact information and other types of data about both the company and the people with which the company interacts. As part of best practices, companies backup that data, and more than likely move it off-site for protection from disaster. The problem is that protection from disk or site failure does not enable the organization to leverage the knowledge contained inside of email stores.
Email as a Knowledge Management System
The time has come to evolve email from a means of communication to a Knowledge Management System (KMS), where the data within email stores create the foundation for information exchange. The concept of a centralized information repository is not new; organizations have tried and for the most part failed in implementing various information and document management systems. The problem has been getting data into that system and getting users to use it. Leveraging email as the foundation makes more sense. Users are “in” email all day long, looking for information in email doesn’t require a context switch.
Where Email Falls Short of Knowledge Management
Storing data is only useful if at some point in the future one can find and use that information – email is no different. Email clients have powerful search capabilities making it easy for a user to find data within their email. The powerful search capabilities built-into email clients is why users often count on their email as an information management system. Their local mail store contains contact information, documents, terms of negotiations etc… For example, it is easy to search for a contact’s information simply by searching for the last email they sent you.
The problem is that email clients and searches are vertical, generally specific to each user. Email search is not horizontal; users can’t search across a department or organization’s email data for specific information. What if, for example, another team member within the company has a better or more recent interaction with the contact? Only that team member knows about it.
Another problem with current email search is what happens to a user’s data if they leave the company? In most cases the user’s account is suspended and the email is set aside for some period of time. New email to that user is forwarded to another user, but that user doesn’t have access to the former user’s old email.
Moving from Communications to Knowledge Management
The first step in creating an information management system from email communications is to create centralized search capabilities in order to easily share information within email across multiple users. At the same time there is email that users will want to keep private and not have available to the entire organization. A simple way to differentiate is to have email worthy of being in the knowledge management system forwarded to a specific email or set of emails. For example, company policies could be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org, or sales contracts and negotiation dialogs could be forwarded to email@example.com.
The next step is to get this data out of the email system and into a Knowledge Management System with an underlying database infrastructure. There are several reasons for this step. First, email stores aren’t as scalable and as durable as the typical database infrastructure. Second, moving data to a knowledge management system allows email independence. The users and even the organizations could switch underlying email engines without losing access to the data. Third, databases typically have more powerful search and indexing capabilities, as well as flexible reporting capabilities.
The final step is to create a search interface that easily allows the user to find data. Initially the search interface could be a simple browser search window that emulates Google search. Over time, adding connectors to popular mail clients would allow searching for information without ever leaving the email package. Eventually, the search capabilities would be accessible within a mobile application, further allowing the user to find data more easily.
Benefits of an Email Knowledge Management System
There are several benefits to both users and IT administrators after implementing an email based Knowledge Management System. First, data can now be found, across users and departments. Second, unlike other information management systems users will use this system. The users are already using email to send out company policy, negotiate with clients as well as send and receive documents.
The Email Knowledge Management System enables users taking over for a former employee to have a more complete history of interactions with other team members as well as with customers and suppliers. It also enables new hires to get up to speed quickly by searching for company policies and documents. The Email Knowledge Management System could also remove email from the mail store after it has been stored in the Email Knowledge Management System, thus reducing the footprint of email storage.
MailJive turns email into knowledge. It is a service for sharing and finding information from email across an entire team regardless of who received it or when. MailJive is a centralized database with real-time, on-demand search capabilities. It indexes specific email accounts (firstname.lastname@example.org) and consolidates that information into its own database. The index takes into account attributes of the email such as date sent, date received, subject text, and body text, and will soon include attachments. Users can also add comments and tags to emails to better aid future searches, and even exclude certain emails from search when they are no longer accurate. It is not necessary to restore data to use it. Users login and start searching.
Data is fully secure with granular permissions within the organization and across teams. Users can only access information for which they have current authorization. Once someone is removed from a team, like a departing employee, they can no longer comment on, tag or remove email documents.
MailJive is a cloud-based solution, which means that no additional on-premises software or hardware is required. The result is an organization can move from communication to knowledge management in less than 30 minutes. For larger enterprises, there is an on-premises option.
When implementing new software or systems, IT needs to look for systems that have as little on-boarding and operational friction as possible. Users don’t want to have to rekey or even import information, they want the system to read what they have and make sense of it. MailJive leverages the treasure trove of information that resides within email to create an almost frictionless Email Knowledge Management System.